It seems as if it wasn’t too long ago when everyone was belting about how much they needed to “let it go.” But it’s actually been six years since Walt Disney Animation Studios released Frozen in 2013, at which point the movie turned into a smash hit of unprecedented proportions. As it should have, considering it ranks high on my list of favorite Disney films, and it’s just a very well-made, heartfelt story with lovable characters and an atmosphere that feels like a throwback to classic Disney Princess entries like Beauty and The Beast or The Little Mermaid. With that in mind, I headed into the theater for Frozen 2 with fairly high expectations, but at the same time reminded myself that this could suffer from sequelitis.
Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, the team that also directed the first Frozen (Lee is the screenwriter for both movies), Frozen 2 turns out to be a worthy successor that succeeds particularly well on character arcs and themes about self-identity, family, and sisterhood. The plot doesn’t flow as well as the first movie and suffers minor pacing issues, but it remains overall enjoyable and expands the mythology of this world when it comes to the origins of Elsa’s (Idina Menzel, Wicked, Rent) magical powers over snow and ice. Both she and her sister Anna (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars, The Good Place) have strong character arcs, but the story does focus more obviously on Elsa’s. From what I’ve heard, she was purposefully written to undergo a hero’s journey, while Anna’s journey was more of the Disney Princess type; her development, though, is more nuanced than most Princesses.
Olaf (Josh Gad, 2017 reboot of Beauty and The Beast, Artemis Fowl), the happy-go-lucky snowman, provides the majority of the comic relief in this movie, as he did in Frozen. Audiences loved him so much back then that I was worried Disney might respond by using him excessively in Frozen 2, which, thankfully, does not happen. The movie essentially presents him as a big kid who possesses some surprisingly mature wisdom. And that storytelling scene (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve seen it) is hilarious, with Gad’s performance giving it a boost.
It goes without saying that the movie is replete with stunning animation—Elsa heading into the stormy ocean, and the visuals for the songs “Into The Unknown” and “Show Yourself.” I also like the creature design for Bruni, the fire salamander, and Nokk, the equine water spirit. The mythology that we explore in regards to the elements and nature spirits feels significantly inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender. The Arendellian lieutenant Mattias (Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us, Waves) is a strong supporting character. I like the introduction of the Northuldra people and the movie’s fairly progressive take on colonialism, even though the latter gets dampened somewhat by the plot’s resolution.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the husband-wife songwriting team who worked on Frozen, returned with eight new originals for the soundtrack. The first is “All Is Found,” sung by Anna and Elsa’s mother Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood, Across The Universe, Westworld), and it’s a sweet lullaby that ends up becoming a leitmotif throughout the rest of the plot. “Some Things Never Change” is an ensemble including Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff, Glee, Mindhunter), and has an ironically idyllic tone meant to portend the momentous changes that are indeed coming. “Into The Unknown” is Elsa’s big number, punctuated by a siren-like call from Norwegian singer/songwriter AURORA, and has been promoted as the next “Let It Go.” It’s certainly a captivating single that Menzel undeniably nails, although I think “Let It Go” is more powerful, thematically and lyrically speaking; besides, that song stands in a category all on its own in terms of its incredible popularity. “When I Am Older” is Olaf’s solo, highlighting the big-kid part of his personality. There’s Kristoff’s “Reindeers Are Better Than People (Cont.)”, which is really just a mini-song that leads up to his solo, “Lost in the Woods.” Giving off Journey vibes, this track succeeds only because it’s self-aware enough to lean fully into campy 80s pop-rock ballad territory. It’s also notable for being Kristoff’s first official solo, since he didn’t get one in Frozen (not counting “Reindeers Are Better Than People”) in spite of Groff being well-known for his vocal chops. “Show Yourself” is Elsa’s second dramatic number; even though I think it’s even more moving than “Into The Unknown,” it’s the kind of piece that I prefer watching in the movie with its gorgeous visuals and emotional heft instead of merely listening to it. The final track is Anna’s “The Next Right Thing,” which is very poignant and admirably utilizes Bell’s voice. This is generally a great soundtrack—coincidentally, it’s the first one from an animated movie to grab the No. 1 spot on the Billboard 200 chart since the first Frozen—but it doesn’t quite measure up to the ones from Frozen or Moana, both of which are indisputably fantastic.
The soundtrack includes covers of “Into The Unknown,” “All Is Found,” and “Lost in the Woods” by Panic! At The Disco, Kacey Musgraves, and Weezer, respectively. It also has outtakes, all of which I recommend listening to: Anna’s “Home,” Anna and Elsa’s “I Seek The Truth,” Olaf’s “Unmeltable Me,” and Anna and Kristoff’s “Get This Right.”
The big question on everyone’s minds—will there be a Frozen 3? I’d say probably, in five or so years. Frozen 2 is a massive box office hit, having made a domestic $127 million on its opening weekend. It beat Zootopia, which is now in second place with an opening weekend of $75 million. To put this in even more perspective, Frozen opened with $67 million. But if Disney is going to release Frozen 3, I hope they give Elsa a girlfriend. This doesn’t happen in Frozen 2, but honestly I wasn’t expecting it anyways. Plus, she has a great amount of growth in her arc, and the theme of figuring out your identity and finding your true calling has queer overtones. Now that Elsa has come to a point in her life where she can have a girlfriend, it would be upsetting if that didn’t happen in Frozen 3.
Let’s take a moment to consider the current era of Disney animation. Starting from 2010 up to now, Disney has released Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Frozen 2. This is one powerhouse of a catalogue that’s reminiscent of the commercial and critical success of the Disney Renaissance. While the Renaissance’s legacy is virtually untouchable, the fact that this past decade’s animated Disney films have attained a high level of quality that comes close to Beauty and The Beast or The Lion King says a lot. When we look back on this period in one or two decades, I wonder if we’ll see it as the Second Disney Renaissance. It may continue into the following year—the next animated offering from Disney will be Raya and the Last Dragon, starring Cassie Steele and Awkwafina, and scheduled for release on November 25, 2020.
There you have it—Frozen 2, the last Disney Animation movie, and an excellent one at that, to close out the decade before we head into the 2020s.
Windup score: 88/100